Thursday, October 20, 2005

Silly Sea Birds
...And Losing My Marbles

We have a mixed relationship with seagulls. Some rhapsodize how " dreams may possess you, no voices can blame you for sun on your wings," while for others of us they are flying rats. When you live in isolation with these birds, they get to know you and your own habits and patterns while you witness theirs. Every morning when I am up and stirring about, they fly reconaissance past the wall of glass, coming in slow and low to see what's for breakfast. Usually it's oatmeal, half a bagel, or yogurt, which is of little interest to them. I've discovered seagulls have their likes and dislikes, yet you wouldn't think it possible the way they eat. Unlike the communal crow who will call others of his troop when food is located, even holding off eating until the others have joined him, the seagull is all about swoop, grab and gulp. I've seen them eat all manner of things: a carcass from roasted chicken, leftover pizza and popcorn. Their true desire, however, are for those rare mornings when I make French toast or waffles with honey. This is Poseidon passion food. I've seen them go into a frenzy over sweetened, eggy bread. I've wanted to say at times, "I am not making crepes for you winged beggars."

Path on the Cape Cod Canal

The Cape Cod Canal cuts in from the sea, effectively
breaking off what was called a peninsula and now forms a truer island. Along the length of the canal from it's entrance to the Sagamore Bridge, which is the chief means of crossing onto the Cape from land, there is a paved walkway which is taken over by walkers, bicyclists, rollerbladders, and birds. The sea birds have learned to use the sidewalk as a tool. You can see them diving into the water for their meal, then they will fly inland, hover over the pavement and drop their catch. They have learned through practice and time that the hardness of the surface will shatter open the quahog shell and save them the labor of prying with their beaks. Authorities having to deal with this shellfish detritus have tried everything to unlearn the birds, even an attempt to try alarm them by painting the shape of a man with arms upraised in white outlines on the black tarmac. The birds are not dissuaded, and they continue to drop and feed.

One time, in a pique of whimsy, I bought a box of D
unkin' Donuts on the last day and threw out donuts for them. One bird was so pleased with his booty, he strutted around with the donut in his mouth in front of fellow gulls, turning his head to the left, then right, to show off his treasure. Once I am gone, they know it's a long winter of sand crabs and clams to come.

I'm not without my own quirks. One autumn when I was on a stretch of sandy beach, watching an old man methodically move along with his mine sweeping metal detector, it came to me to start burying coins under the sand. We all seek potential treasure whether in Powerball or pennies. I realized it would give him such pleasure to hear his sweeper beeping while he took his walk and that it was more about the moment when the meter starts to click and the anticipation of what might be there. Beachcombing is much more than discovering what the sea has washed up. It is returning to a childlike fascination with the found object.

A few years ago, I decided it would be fun to toss marbles back into the sea while I take my strolls. I went to a local market and found a tray that displayed 500 or 1,000 marbles of varied sizes and styles: cat's eyes, ghosts, agies, shooters and alleys. The largest marble in the collection, sometimes called the moon marble, is black irridescence, and I always held onto that one for last. As Tibetans tie their hopes and prayers to pieces of paper that flutter in the wind, I would wish, hope and pray with each lobbed bit of glass into the water. I had a fantasy that it would be nice if the marble could work it's way back to shore, with the movement of the tide and some nice hot summer day a child walking on the beach, bent over in search of treasure, could find one washed back up amidst the rocks and shells of the shoreline.

This is not French toast...and it's cold...and where's the honey?


Blogger Megarita said...

I love the marble idea! And seagulls have been forever tainted by "FInding Nemo" -- MINE MINE MINE MINE MINE. So apt. I've been chased by those damn birds for too long. Salty pigeons, they are!

1:14 PM  
Blogger I-66 said...

Seagulls were instrumental in many a prank in college... I was at NSU (Norfolk State, Norfolk, VA) which, as you probably know, is close to the agua. We'd sit atop the student union awaiting someone who we didn't like... and then throw bread down from above at their feet in front of them and watch as seagulls swooped in out of the blue to feast all around the unsuspecting evil individual. [evil laugh]

3:29 PM  
Blogger Phil said...

"One time, in a pique of whimsy, I bought a box of Dunkin' Donuts on the last day and threw out donuts for them. One bird was so pleased with his booty, he strutted around with the donut in his mouth in front of fellow gulls, turning his head to the left, then right, to show off his treasure."

I do that, too, if I have a box of doughnuts to myself.

3:49 PM  
Blogger playfulinnc said...

When I worked in Annandale, I would take my lunch break in the parkinglot of K-Mart, listening to the Kojo Nambdi show. Wow. Maybe I should stop there.

A large family of seagulls lived in that parkinglot, and, as a part of my eat half of what I bring diet, I would share the rest with them. They learned my car so well that they found it 1/2 mile away at the office, and would leave a "calling card" or two on the windshield.

The marble idea is fantastic. I do that with books, just not in the ocean.

4:57 PM  
Blogger DCLastCall said...

Great! I am reading about toast, yogurt, honey and marbles right when I am going through a serious munchies craving. Now I have to search my empty cupboards for substanance.

Hmmm. There's always jello!


11:54 PM  
Blogger Poppy Cede said...

I love seagulls. Was that a seahorse in his beak?!

12:10 AM  
Blogger Washington Cube said...

It is a seahorse. Trust me. They would rather eat people food.

12:58 AM  
Anonymous drew said...

I remember back in high school (hush, those of you who know me) I needed to find wildlife to photograph in black and white for a class project. I had a few successful runs at the National Zoo, and neighborhood squirrels, but my pièce de triomphe was the squawking band of bully-seagulls outside of Thrasher Fries in Baltimore, Maryland’s Inner Harbor.

I remember pinching the fries in half, and hearing the first of the orchestral shrieking "scraw" sounds that I learned meant something along the lines of, "I think he's gonna... yep! He’s throwing them! It's FEEDING TIME!" The first few shots (and fries) were wasted as I learned the rhythm to time it just so to get the big potato wedge thrown in the air, grab my camera with my now-greasy fingers and aim more or less by zen to the general area to attempt to catch the excited crowds of birds mid-flight.

There were some awesome shots out of that collection, some with wings fluttering, some with beaks colliding, fighting for the fried delicacies, and I'm positive in at least a few I saw those feathered faces with a trace of a smile.

9:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

During one of my husband's first visits with my family, we visited Rehoboth Beach. Naturally, we had to sample the fries at the stand owned by "the Greek", as my Father called it. We munched as we walked the boardwalk, the seagulls walked along with us, and some hovered overhead. My husband held up fries, and the gulls snatched thme out of his fingers. Perhaps in a fit of gratitude, one left a plop of "thank you" on his dark blue windbreaker. Nice.


9:17 AM  
Blogger Sharkbait said...

I am absolutely petrified of seagulls just fore the mere fact they fly so spontaneously, and possibly one day their flight pattern may cause droppings to land on MY head! (i know very strange, but petrified none the less)

Also, the nemo thing. Crazy. MINE MINE! :-)

12:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am going out of my mind at work and your blog was perfectly...refreshing. Thanks.

3:38 PM  
Blogger Smash said...

What do I have to do to be cool enough to get a link on your blog? Tell me and I'll do it.

3:46 PM  
Blogger cuff said...

Your last two entries have been stunning. I used to think seagulls were just prettier pigeons, but now I'm not so sure.

4:43 PM  
Blogger mysterygirl! said...

How awesome that you buried coins for the metal detector guy! That's really neat.

You made the seagulls seem amazing and beautiful, quite a feat since I usually rank them as rats with wings...

6:44 PM  
Blogger Reya Mellicker said...

I'm one of the people who think of seagulls as rats of the sky, but I have to admit they're magic. I've seen them sipping from tiny goblets of half-and-half (that I leave as offerings for the sea gods) without knocking over the glasses or spilling a drop.

One time at Bodega Bay, stoned, I "received" the wisdom that all seagulls are named Randy. Check it out. It fits.

9:33 AM  
Blogger A Unique Alias said...

Jonathan Livingston Seagull is the only seagull who is not akin to a rat with wings.

12:11 PM  
Blogger VP of Dior said...

I would do a little strut if I had a Dunkin Donut in my mouth. Great post.

8:56 PM  

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